|Version Reviewed: Playstation 2
It goes without saying that fantasy settings in role- playing games are a dime a dozen. What seems to be less surprising is how many of those games try too hard to please their finicky fanbases with extravagant graphics, accurate lip sync, convoluted combat systems, obsessive-compulsive item-collecting, and monsters so powerful they require a minimum of two bathroom breaks before you can finish them off. Such is the state of many RPG’s today, and it’s easy to see how it has become difficult to bring new players into the genre.
Every once in a while, though, a game revisits a time when simpler game design was sufficient to tell a moving story while keeping players entertained. The Dragon Quest series is such a series. It has existed for over twenty years, spanning the history of modern gaming; its development team is experienced in delivering solid games with timeless stories. Its eighth installment merges traditional adventure gameplay with sixth generation console graphics to make an incredible composition.
In many aspects, this game is a love letter to Dragon Quest fans the world over. Very little has changed,but there has never been a necessity to do so. Like most Dragon Quest games, you travel from one kingdom to another, each with unique people and problems in need of solving. You trek by foot but eventually have access to a ship and a flyer. Then, of course, there are the obligatory casinos where the heroes can gamble away gold for prizes. The combat system still uses turn-based random encounters with the baddies on one side and the heroes on the other . The text reports every moment like a ringside announcer, but the addition of animations and special effects gives these battles even more life. Also, an attribute called tension adds a new level to combat. A character or monster can use its turn to ‘psych up’, thereby multiplying its attack and magic power. Psych up enough times, and it may even attain powers that only the biggest Akira Toriyama fans would truly appreciate (Hint: it’s over 100!). Experience points are earned by defeating monsters as per the usual fare, but you now have the option to enhance characters using skill points. Each character has four skills in which they can specialize, and points invested in each skill make the character more effective with certain weapons, magic, and skills unique to that character. Another new feature making a debut here is the alchemy pot, which combines inventory items to create entirely new, usually more powerful, creations.
The graphics and music are easily the best features of this game. From the moment you start the game, you are greeted by a breathtaking panoramic view of a fully 3D cell-shaded world as conceptualized by the team’s resident artist and anime/manga god, Akira Toriyama. His whimsical character and monster designs are as potent now as they were twenty years ago, and they really shine here with the addition of Level-5’s graphics engine. Dragon Quest VIII also underwent a great change with the creator’s decision to use a live symphony for Koichi Sugiyama’s trademark classical orchestral soundtrack. Together, these two artists continue to this day to help give Dragon Quest games their timeless quality, and this installment is no exception.
The story itself is an integral part of what makes this game so enjoyable. The player assumes the role of a silent protagonist, a mysterious figure who never seeks any recognition. The story doesn’t lend itself to focus on the main character. Rather, he selflessly cares for his lord and lady, defending them from the evil that has descended on the realm. As a result, his quiet demeanor allows him to easily get along with his allies. The real charm in the story comes from the supporting characters, who all have little in common with each other but still try to find common ground. There is Yangus, the bandit, and in the next kingdom is the magic-wielding mistress Jessica who seeks revenge on the jester for the murder of her brother. Last is Angelo, a playboy Templar knight who grew up with harsh discrimination inside his monastery, who also seeks justice for the death of his master at the hands of the jester. More interesting, though, is the character development of King Trodain. From the beginning he insists on retaining his authority, showing a naïve perspective of the world around him. Throughout his travels he is persecuted due to his monstrous appearance, and he discovers firsthand the darker side of people living in high society as a result. At the same time, though, he witnesses kindness from the unlikeliest people from all walks of life: thieves, paupers, peasants, and even other actual monsters. In the end, the king grows as a person, and the experiences he has proves to be valuable.
To describe even more examples of what makes this story great would take a whole essay in itself, but hopefully this provides a good idea of the great things this game’s storyline has to offer.
Dragon Quest VIII is a welcoming addition to any gamer’s library. Whether you are a seasoned roleplayer or completely new to the genre, this game is very easy to pick up and learn, with a well-crafted story and fascinating environment to keep players happy from start to finish. Slime fans are welcome to try it out, too.